County launches foster care project to boost east side homes

Dundalk Community Partnership seeks foster families

May 22, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

About half the Baltimore County children in need of foster care come from neighborhoods with the least number of certified foster homes, a situation that county officials are trying to address with a pilot program designed to establish a strong network of neighborhood-based resource families.

The Dundalk Community Partnership will focus on the area with the greatest need for foster homes and expects to draw churches, schools and nonprofit organizations into efforts to spur recruitment. The county Department of Social Services will also reach out to families who have participated in the past to determine what additional support officials might provide.

"Our job is the protection of all children," said Judith Schagrin, assistant director of the Children's Service Division at the county's Department of Social Services. "We want to keep children in their communities. But government can't do this all on its own."

The county will begin the effort in Dundalk, from which the largest number of children came into the foster system last year. About half of those 77 children have since returned to their family homes.

"We are not targeting Dundalk," Schagrin said. "It is a wonderfully proud community with a really rich history, but it is really struggling in this economy. We want to give this community the help and support it needs."

In 2010, 520 children entered the county's foster system, nearly half of them from east-side neighborhoods including Dundalk, Essex, Parkville, Middle River and Rosedale. The county approved 215 homes last year, only eight of which were in Dundalk.

"It is tough enough for a child to come into care, but so much tougher when that child has to leave behind the community, school, even siblings," Schagrin said. "The more we have to move these children around, the more traumatic this is for them."

Since recruitment of foster families has lagged so far behind the need, most Dundalk children were placed in other areas, not only removing from their family home but also from all that is familiar to them.

"The data led us to Dundalk," said Nicholas J. D'Alesandro, community liaison with county Department of Social Services. "We are starting in one community, focusing on the children, the families and the surrounding areas. We are inviting the community to sit down with us so together we can come up with ideas."

The greatest need is for homes for older children and teens as well as siblings. Many foster parents prefer infants and toddlers, and many homes cannot add more than one child to the family.

The department has invited prospective foster families to attend community meetings, where officials outline the process for certifying a home and parents, who must undergo 30 hours of training. The county provides a stipend that will meet all the child's basic needs.

Foster parents also are invited to attend the meetings and share stories that might encourage others to consider providing a home to children in need of care.

About 20 people attended a meeting earlier this month at the North Point library and three discussed the issue with department officials afterward but have yet to pursue the program.

"It is not easy taking care of someone else's child," Schagrin said. "It takes an act of kindness. We ask the impossible — love these children as your own, but be prepared to give them back."

The next meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Essex library, 1110 Eastern Blvd.

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